INTERVIEW : Xavier ARM, GENERAL MANAGER, Plendi
Luxury hospitality is often associated with a five star ranking, which may create confusion for guests / travellers. How is your company selected when it comes to new constructions or renovations of luxury hotels?
It’s quite natural, actually. We are selected by hotel chains that know that our added value and expertise come together in luxury interior design projects. In fact that’s how we build our intervention strategy. Regardless of the cost of the works, the location or our client’s reputation, we seek to work on the very best projects with beautiful, sophisticated and outstanding interior design. This is how we prove we are the best in terms of both the speciality and the high standards required for this type of project.
What are the main competitive advantages that make your company stand out?
I would say that our main strength is that we are “pure players” in the luxury sector. By specialising in this niche sector, we have developed greater know-how, expertise, and reputation.
We orchestrate a wide range of building craftmanship and rare artisanal trades. We rely on a network of highly skilled artisans that we have patiently built up over the years. Our teams are also made up in a slightly different way than is the case on more traditional construction projects. Our works engineers are joined by architects, interior designers, material specialists and fitters. Once again, it is a very specific ecosystem where the demands of the clients and their interior designers require excellent listening skills, interior design “vocabulary” and of course a great deal of experience.
One of our competitive advantages is our bespoke offer. We are a general contractor and work on every aspect from structural works to finishing and FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment), and even OS&E (Operating Supplies & Equipment). We also offer consultancy, construction project management and architectural synthesis services. Clients really appreciate our flexibility.
To conclude, I would simply say that we have the great fortune of loving what we do; it’s our greatest driving force. I have been passionate about the luxury hotel business since I was a child and my deputy is passionate about interior design and beautiful craftsmanship. Plendi was built on our desire to work only on fantastic projects and, of course, the trust and invaluable support we receive from our mother company, VINCI Construction.
The large majority of luxury hotel chains are often only managed by the respective company / chain, the owner / developer being a distinct investor. Such owners / investors are seeking to save on budgets and cut down on the investment.
Of course! There is an economic logic behind the most luxurious hotel chains. The very best luxury hotels may hope to offer their clients the most beautiful setting for their stay, with a budget to match, but the investment mechanism still applies. Plendi by VINCI Construction is able to help in this respect. As far as possible, we like to work upstream of the project so that the hotel/architect/interior design team also benefits from our experience. We are able to provide value engineering in order to arrive at the chosen interior design project with the required quality. We recommend choosing a PCSA (Pre Construction Service Agreement), which allows us to jointly establish a budget, a deadline and the required level of decorative finishes on the project, and then work within these 3 parameters.
We know exactly what is at stake behind a hotel opening: the promise to guests on the opening date, the scale of recruitment and training in a luxury hotel, the expected cash-flow from bookings. Respecting deadlines is crucial and we are fully committed on that score. In addition, our clients are very keen to get a fair price. They invest in the quality of the services, materials and execution because they know that the investment will pay off in the long run with no faulty workmanship, quickly renovation work needed or, even worse, disappointed guests.
How much more challenging or complicated is a renovation project on a luxury hotel located within a heritage / historical building?
For sure, working on historic buildings in the most beautiful cities in the world comes with constraints that are very much a part of our everyday reality. I would say that the first constraint is complying with the instructions of the ABF (Architectes des Bâtiments de France) or their counterparts abroad in order to respect the historical character of the buildings. For example, you have to know how to group several buildings together – as we did for the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris- keeping the original flooring and ensuring a uniformity of levels to maintain the overall harmony of the hotel.
In the historic centres of London or Paris, where extensive renovation of existing buildings is practically obligatory, we often have to excavate the basements to add extra space and install a spa, swimming pool, disco or simply technical spaces. As you can imagine, it requires some technical skills.
One of our recurring headaches is of course material deliveries. When you are working in pretty little one-way streets in a city centre that is congested all day long and you have to bring in dozens of semi-trailers a day, you need to have some tricks up your sleeve. Sometimes we can’t even put a crane on our construction sites. In fact, we had the same and simultaneous experience on the Mandarin Oriental sites in both London and Paris, having to carry out our work without a crane and on an occupied site (meaning the hotels were still open). In London, we used the outside fire stairs, and in Paris we installed a lift outside the building site under tarpaulin in the hotel’s colours! Constraints have the advantage of making us think creatively!
As I mentioned before, we frequently work on an occupied site. You have to have developed an approach in addition to the appropriate skills. We have to blend in, comply with very strict instructions in terms of noise levels, and leave no trace behind us. And of course, we can’t turn off the water and electricity whenever we please. Once again, it’s our job, so we master all these aspects and are helped by the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, the most renowned hospitality school in the world. Under our partnership agreement the school trains all our staff in the principles governing the luxury hotel business.
Do you cover a specific geographical area where you are able to provide your services?
We work worldwide and we have created our business model as a consequence. Of course, it’s possible thanks to our affiliation with VINCI Construction, a world leader in the construction industry, which operates in almost every country on the planet. So we always join forces with the corresponding subsidiary in the project location and set up a team made up of local players and Plendi as soon as the feasibility and price studies start.
We rely on their local knowledge, their contacts and of course their know-how and we bring our expertise in terms of the characteristics of these types of projects, as well as the architectural trades, technical and architectural synthesis that we are always keen to bring into all our projects – and of course in terms of interior design and craftsmanship too. In top-end luxury interior design projects it is really important to start working from the very first phases because you always have to have the finished product in mind, even during the initial construction phases.
What is your approach when it comes to Spas / Wellness? Do you have an in-house specialist for these more specific projects?
Quite simply, I would say that all our projects include spas, gyms and swimming pools. We have a team of specialists who have dozens of spas and pools to their credit. In fact, for our latest project, we dug more than 15 meters down in the heart of Paris to install the largest private swimming pool in the capital and for confidentiality reason, I can’t tell you for whom or where exactly, but I can assure you that yes, we are experts!